Democracy is not freedom

As we approach another election cycle, during which we will be peppered with calls by politicians to take government action because that is what the "people" want, it is important to recall that the "will of the people" has no moral value at all. 

Anyone who closely watched the recent bipartisan congressional hearings on the Tiananmen Square massacre ought to have noticed this salient problem with the Orwellian mutilation of language appearing over and over again in the remarks of American academicians brought in as witnesses.  "Democracy" was always cited as the virtue desired, and "freedom" was never mentioned at all. 

"Democracy" and "freedom" have almost no connection to each other.  Democracy can be and often has been horribly evil and utterly totalitarian.  Hitler came to power by democratic means, and by 1940, he was democratically the most popular German leader in history.  One factor staying the hand of German generals who wanted to end Hitler's rule was their recognition of how genuinely most Germans respected and admired him. 

Mao, like Stalin, was passionately loved by most of his countrymen when he died (and by countless American leftists who eulogized his murderous legacy), and both of these ghastly creatures would have won elections in their realms by landslides. 

In our own history, the oppression of blacks in the South was popular among the majority of the people in those states, and it was this fact that made it so hard to bring civil rights to blacks in the South.  Those who considered "democracy" a vital good, like FDR or Woodrow Wilson, pandered shamelessly to white supremacists, upon whose support they won the Democratic Party nomination, the presidential election, and control of Congress.

Democracy has only one single virtue: it creates uncertainty about who will have power after the next election.  The counterpart of democracy in our legal system is the jury, which was intended to provide disinterested jury verdicts.  When jurors are selected at random from a large enough population, then their verdicts are not predicted by the self-interest of the jurors, except for a general interest in seeing justice done.

What has happened is that democracy has been corrupted by an appeal to self-interest in the same way that a jury system is corrupted when verdicts depend not upon general ideas of justice and instead upon advancing the interests of jurors — and this has been largely destroyed by deliberate connection of jurors' group interest with verdicts, as in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson twenty-five years ago.

Freedom means a reduction in the role of government to the lowest possible level consistent with public safety, national security, and a narrowly interpreted meaning of the "general welfare."  In this respect, freedom often means defying democracy and every other vehicle for controlling government.  When individuals are not free to defy what the majority of voters want, then the situation is the same as when individuals are not free to defy wealthy bosses or others who can control government for their own purposes.  When people are truly free, then democracy is demoted to the status of a footnote, because who wins elections is essentially unimportant.

This most emphatically does not mean indifference to the poor and the sick, the development and maintenance of art and culture, or any other noble public purpose — and this is particularly true in America. 

Almost from the beginning of our nation, voluntary organizations and individuals acting alone have devoted much effort, attention, and treasure to making life better.  Because these efforts were not directed at creating groups of voters who would grow to be dependent upon government handouts or funding, these voluntary efforts actually "worked" in ways that government never does. 

Freedom also means a rather different form of "democracy," but one that does not involve our traditional definition of democracy at all: the marketplace.  Every day, left free to choose, Americans cast "votes" by their decisions to purchase goods and services from one source and not another.  The efficiency of our economic system largely depends upon these billions of choices cast daily rather than millions of votes cast every few years in elections.  In this sort of "democracy," everyone wins.  Each consumer gets what he wants.

Democracy, as Churchill reminds us, is the worst form of government in the world...except for all the rest.  He was right, but with this caveat: government is the worst system of handling human relationships, whether government is democratic or not, and it should be used only when there is no alternative.  Freedom is the best system of handling human relationships and ought to be used whenever possible.

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